At the Business End of Going “Green”

Sustainability at work is about more than the “green gloss” of articles and business social media posts.  Considering consistency may be one way to help organisations assess their commitment to a more sustainable business model.

This article considers three linked areas that cut across organisational and environmental boundaries, seeking to put forward a more joined-up and sustainable ap

This article considers various ways in which “consistency” helps organisations genuinely engage in promoting and improving sustainability across their entire scope of operations.   This is examined across the following areas; Strategy (Mission & ESG), Finance (Controlling Costs), Sourcing (Procurement & Supply Chain) People (Ways of Working & Communication) and Metrics (Measurement & Analysis).

Strategy: Our first area requiring consistency is matching strategy against the UN Sustainability Goals for 2030, adopted by the General Assembly in September 2015.  These 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are based on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. 

Not all of these will apply to every organisation, but when we look at overall strategy for the organisation, is it broadly consistent with these principles of reducing environmental harm, inequality and injustice, while improving quality of life, opportunity, health and wellbeing?  Is there an overriding commitment to Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) in place which is determining direction and policy? 

To be clear, these do not have to be the prime and certainly not the only goals of the organisation (unless it is an environmental one) but commitment should feature clearly and boldly in mission and strategy statements.

Finance: One of the main concerns for organisations in the current climate is controlling costs.  The financial strategy needs to be consistent in considering the potential for cost savings balanced by commitments to staff, stakeholders and the environment.

So does improving sustainability necessarily mean an increase in costs?  The good news here is that in many cases what is good for the environment is also good for the balance sheet.

In many cases what is good for the environment is also good for the balance sheet.

As we reduce energy consumption (from premises, devices and datacentres) our costs come down.  As we move systems to the cloud, the length of time we can use a device before it needs replacement also increases.

Equally importantly if we get our ways of working right (see below) then our response to major disruptions and changes need not involve significant extra spending.  Solutions that are designed to be flexible from the outset can respond to major changes smoothly and efficiently, scaling up rather than needing to be changed or increased.

There is a lot of debate around the future of the centralised HQ, driven by a combination of significant overheads and a reluctance to return to mass commute and highly-concentrated workplaces.  While the overall economy clearly benefits from such a “return to normal” it is highly unlikely that most organisations will enforce it – leading to the potential of significant changes to spending (and working) patterns.

Sourcing: Most organisations have at least a sustainability statement in their core strategy, but increasingly procurement professionals (like many of us as individual consumers) are also starting to look at supply chain and how consistent the commitments of our suppliers is with our own key values. 

This can be as simple as making energy-efficiency a metric in a tender / supplier assessment criteria, or requiring that all suppliers have a formally adopted sustainability policy themselves.

The difficulty is measuring what these mean in reality.  A well-thought through strategy and policy document may be enough to qualify for a preferred supplier listing, but does it really mean anything?  Under UK legislation, Scope 3 (Value Chain) Emissions reporting has become mandatory for all but the smallest SMEs.

As verifiable tracking and auditing technologies built around big data, analytics, blockchain and smart sensors become available, new insights will be generated which will help to direct purchasing activities and drive true carbon-accountability from suppliers and supply chains.   

Until then we have to evaluate suppliers using a more basic “benchmark, improve, report” strategy (see Metrics below) to judge their performance.

People: If failing to have a clearly defined strategy that includes sustainability is the most common issue we encounter, failing to support it with consistent operational practices and policies (and communicate those effectively to staff and stakeholders) comes a close second.

Encouraging sustainable ways of working for all staff is unquestionably important.  From minimising energy use and waste to encouraging and enabling recycling, the organisation can promote sustainability as part of its core communications with staff.  Minimising work-based travel has long been a contentious area, with inconsistent flexible working policies for different parts of the organisation and “essential” car users mandated to meet minimum annual mileage targets to retain tax-free travel allowances.

Of course the recent changes to working practices regarding travel to work in the Covid-19 crisis have cast this whole area in a new light, but the fundamental question remains – is working flexibly / away from the organisation’s buildings consistent across the workforce and is it an interim solution, tolerated or actively supported?

This “ways of working question” is vitally important from a sustainability perspective.  According to our research 1 work-based travel (including commute) is responsible for around 2.7% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions and has significant impacts on air pollution, quality of life and communities.

Work-based travel (including commute) is responsible for around 2.7% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions

This is not to suggest that all work should be carried out remotely, just that a better balance is needed to create a more sustainable working environment. 

So providing the right equipment, the right “workspaces” and supporting a secure, supported and flexible working environment are all highly important.  Consistency has a further role to play here as we look at user experience from various locations.  True, security (such as access to some data and systems) may need to be adjusted based on device and location, but information technology should be designed to preserve team collaboration and the overall way of working.  In summary people should not feel disadvantaged by working from their location of choice.

It’s also worth noting that the right choice of IT equipment can have a significant impact on sustainability.  Our research also confirms that low-energy devices and cloud solutions offer significant reductions (over 40%) in energy use when compared with traditional PCs, laptops and on-premises data centres.

Metrics: Given the above requirements to consider strategy, sourcing and people, how can we ensure that organisations are taking an approach that is both consistent and effective?

There are four key areas where analytics and metrics can help.

  • Initial Benchmarking – Identifying where we are today, what is the resulting carbon footprint and how does this compare with targets
  • Identifying Priorities – Highlighting areas where we can make the most difference, how quickly and what success looks like for us
  • Progress Reporting – Quantifying the progress we have made, which areas are doing best / worst and encouraging user engagement
  • Analogous Visualisation – Translating the raw figures into something easily understood by staff and stakeholders, like acres of trees, car miles per person and similar ratios

Metrics are the key to driving changes in behaviour.  Many organisations struggle to get started in this area as they lack experience in generating this data without intrusive monitoring or expensive and disruptive systems changes. 

There are a number of organisations, including Px3, who can assist in getting this established with low-cost analysis services and annual audits.

Conclusion

Organisations need to take a consistent, balanced, pragmatic and above all informed approach to sustainability. Compliance with legislation and international goals is clearly a priority, but what is also true, in our experience, is that a focus on sustainability can also have positive impacts on both finance and user engagement / experience.

a focus on sustainability can also have positive impacts on both finance and user engagement / experience

As we translate these commitments into wider areas of the business, across the full value chain, we will start to see the benefits and impacts accelerate.

Much like the investment in flexible working, a focus on sustainability today will have immediate benefits, but will also put the organisation on the right track as we all respond to an increasingly uncertain future.

1 Research source: MBA thesis & PhD Research by Justin Sutton-Parker at the University of Warwick

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Three Key Changes Needed as We Head Towards a “New Normal”

There is an understandable desire to get back to something like “normal” as soon as possible, but this needs to be balanced by recognising that the old normal was part of the problem. So what’s key for organisations seeking to make the new normal significantly better than the one we so recently left behind?

This article considers three linked areas that cut across organisational and environmental boundaries, seeking to put forward a more joined-up and sustainable approach for organisations approaching the “post-covid” era.

Better Strategy: Perhaps an obvious number one, but worth explaining and expanding. By better strategy I mean developing and communicating an overall plan that sets out a destination or outcome plus a means to achieve it.  It should include a “live” action plan which is prioritised (doing the most important things first) and proportionate (shifting effort and resources between priorities to achieve maximum effectiveness).

We have a tendency to react to situations with a series of tactical initiatives, each logical in isolation but lacking in an overall, joined-up, coordinated approach.

A well-thought out (and communicated) strategy builds confidence, boosts contribution and productivity and both encourages and focuses ideas and innovation. It is very important that everyone understands the question “how does this help?” – what is my contribution to the delivering the strategy and why does it (and therefore why do I) matter?

Particularly as organisations have become, and are likely to remain, more geographically dispersed this notion of “contribution and value” (linked to goals, training and personal development) will become critical to motivating retaining talent and boosting productivity.

More Sharing: Again, this one is multi-levelled, ranging from internal team structures, processes and communication through to improving collaboration on global issues including sustainability.

Building from the strategy piece above, when we have a clear vision of our goals, destination and route we need to establish a team capable of delivering our aims. While this will undoubtedly contain some key individuals, we need to establish the broadest concept of shared endeavour and enterprise across the entire organisation.

As a core to this I have always tried to encourage an initial response to any issue (large or small) of “how can I help?” – a simple question which not only supports whoever has the issue, but encourages them to retain ownership of it with assistance and the real sense that their problems are shared with a wider team.

We are also increasingly aware of the global nature of existential threats that mean we are all vulnerable to something taking place on the other side of the world. The butterfly effect is truly with us and our only counter to it is sharing knowledge, skills and ideas. It may be that some of our international organisations are less than perfect, or that the alliance and sharing of data between academia, science, international governments and commerce is difficult to manage and maintain, but it is precisely this sharing that offers us the best chance to thrive and survive.

Improved Sustainability: This broader notion of collaboration to aid our survival as a species is precisely where my third concern for the new normal sits. If we fail to recognise the impact our “normal” activities are having on the planet then the crisis we will inevitably create makes the current one minor by comparison.

Not to diminish the clear tragedy of the deaths, disruption and economic impact there are some cautious positives from the current situation. We are seeing an improved respect for science and scientists as individuals and institutions turn around projects in months that would normally take many years. 

We have seen that collective responsibility can be encouraged and lead to massive changes in behaviour. We have also seen that those changes can directly lead to environmental improvements. What we have not yet seen is that those changes are literally “sustainable” – i.e. that they endure beyond the crisis. 

What’s needed is not just a minor slowing or reducing of current damage, we need a significant reversal of trend towards truly sustainable energy and behaviour. This means shifting from a selfish, myopic and short-term view based on cost and convenience to one of “how can we reduce harm and improve outcomes?” in order to take a broader perspective.

To achieve this we need to embed the key question of sustainability into every organisational plan and decision. If we do this globally across every organisation it becomes the new normal. That sounds overly ambitious, but if we insist on it as individuals, employees, stakeholders, investors and most importantly as consumers then it will become an essential part of every organisation’s operational and strategic plan. We have seen that governments can significantly change people’s behaviour – now we need to show that people can significantly change the behaviour of governments and organisations.

Conclusion

What will the new normal look like? Will we have a plan, a shared set of common goals that include a new attitude towards our shared home planet? Maybe not right away, but I believe this is a unique opportunity when we should take responsibility for making a new start on sustainability as we start to seriously think about “what’s next”.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity. He is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Facing Existential Threats

Having recognised that we are pretty much all in uncharted territory, how do we respond?  First let’s be clear that we are talking about factors, internal and external, that can threaten the continued existence of an organisation.  Specifically we are not covering “conventional” threats from poor operational / financial strategy or execution e.g. poor sales performance or cost control.  Rather we are considering those factors that might otherwise seem outside of our immediate control such as environmental changes, a government mandated lock-down of citizens and a growing issue of employee disengagement with their employment and employers.

Why plan for things you can’t control?  Well, while we may not have a solution which fully mitigates the issues, our response may well ultimately determine our survival as an organisation, both directly through the response itself and, equally importantly, indirectly through the message that it sends to stakeholders (staff, customers, suppliers, shareholders and investors).

These factors will be considered in more detail in a joint webinar with 6 Degrees (https://www.6dg.co.uk/event/tackling-existential-business-threats/) and a set of action points will be covered in a subsequent post, but for now let’s consider the headline issues and responses.

Threat Origins

Probably the simplest way for any organisation to profile its potential threats is to use the PEST (Political, Economic/Environmental, Social, Technological) analysis process.  With a little creative thinking we can quickly identify not only a high-level matrix of specific threats, but also two key factors; priority and interconnections.  

What quickly emerges from such an exercise is a complex mix of internal and external issues, many of which directly affect each other; staff engagement affects productivity which affects economic performance and investment.  Sustainability is covered by compliance legislation, has a direct effect on staff attraction and retention, as well as investment.

Prioritising & Planning Responses

Our first response should be to rate the threat priority.  This is a trickier exercise than simply identifying the threats as it involves not just the importance to the organisation (in its widest sense), but also the degree to which the organisation is able to take action in a specific area. 

As an example a government instruction for all non-critical workers to “stay at home” may be the biggest impact and threat, but it can’t (and shouldn’t) be challenged.  In fact the priority response areas for this are Social (creating / maintaining a supportive culture) and Technological (creating maintaining a flexible working environment).

The creation of a weighted scorecard for priority response along the lines of criticality(the degree of threat), scope for action (the ability to mitigate the threat) and immediacy (the timeline for action / impact) allows us to list these in order and also to create a visibly comprehensive action plan.

Of course this does presuppose that the organisation has a clear view on its operational priorities and critical roles.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but having this analysis and planning in place BEFORE existential threats materialise is always much more effective than trying to create the data sets and analysis DURING the crisis. 

Let’s be clear, we’ve all been there, making the best of difficult situations with limited resources.  The trick is to learn from our experience and that of others – to build our knowledge and capability based on reality and what actually was effective.

What Next?

In part II we’ll look at the specific issues and threats from Planet (Ecological), People (Workforce) and Productivity (Economic) perspectives.

While you’re here….

Please take a minute to participate in our research into the impact on emissions of the current travel restrictions.  The survey (https://www.research.net/r/cvd_response) is anonymous, takes roughly 1 minute and contributes to our PhD sustainability research with the University of Warwick.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity. He is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk